Question of the week: Why is the interruption of routines and traditions at Christmas so difficult for a child?


47535158 - sad little boy waiting for christmas presents


Children of divorce get used to a particular routine. While living in a different house every week or leaving your home to spend every other weekend with a different parent might not seem like a routine to us adults, to children, it is what has become their routine.

It is a schedule that has become a routine they can count on to happen. They can look forward to seeing the other parent every other Friday. Or they know that each Saturday morning, they will be moving to the other parent’s home for a week. After months or even years, this convoluted schedule becomes comfortable and doable for children of divorce.

One thing that makes the holidays difficult for children is the interruption of routines and rituals. Routines lend themselves to a sense of security, and everyone knows that routines go out the window during the holiday times. Please encourage single parents to try and keep the routines the same as much as they can.

Tell the single parents in your church that when things have to change, let their children know: “Things are going to be a little bit different today. We’re going to do such and such.” Routines, rituals, and traditions are very important to children. Encourage single parents to make concessions for the kids if the adults’ schedule gets hectic.

Several years ago, my church’s choir was practicing every night for our Christmas cantata. One of our young, single moms, who had a two year old and a three year old, was a real trooper. She was there for each rehearsal. She made concessions for her kids. She brought their pajamas to rehearsal and dressed them for bed before they got in the car to return home. She also allowed her kids to sleep in the living room with her for these two weeks. Their bedtime was about the only quality time they were able to be together these two weeks.

Why it is important to keep some of the same traditions for kids during the holidays?

Many times during the holidays, single parents want to protect their children. They don’t want the kids to remember how things used to be when the parents were married. They try to make everything different, and sometimes that’s a mistake. Sometimes it’s okay to keep things the same. Children feel security in family traditions.

Perhaps when married, the parents took the kids to see the Nutcracker every year. Now, in the single-parent family, money is tight, and the parent considers not taking the children to a performance. The children really enjoy the Nutcracker, so naturally, they want to continue this tradition.

Encourage the single parent to add to the tradition rather than abolish it. For instance, perhaps the single parent could afford to take the kids to a less-expensive matinee instead of an evening performance. Maybe the single parent could take the children for hot chocolate after the event. Suggest little, subtle things the parent can do to blend the old tradition with a new tradition.

Encourage single parents to sit down and talk with their children. Tell single parents to ask their children about what traditions they want to change. Perhaps this year, it is time the single parent and kids developed some new traditions. I like to encourage single parents to try one new Christmas celebration each year. The ones they like can become long-term traditions.

Urge the single parents in your church to go with the flow of what their children want to do. Any changes single parents make need to feel comfortable to them. If single parents don’t feel comfortable, that will impact the children.


This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on December 9, 2013.

DC4K blogs posts are great for training children’s leaders and volunteers, and they are free. Subscribe now.

Want to learn more about how to start a DivorceCare for Kids group for the hurting children in your community?

Did you know DC4K blog articles are on Pinterest? Divorce & Kids, Children’s Pastors, and Single Parents, they’re all there.

Follow dc4kLinda on Twitter.

Like our DivorceCare for Kids and Single & Parenting Facebook pages, where we give helpful parenting tips for the single parents in your ministries.




6 thoughts on “Question of the week: Why is the interruption of routines and traditions at Christmas so difficult for a child?

  1. Pingback: DC4K » Kids & Divorce Christmas Greetings: Compilation of all the Christmas Posts This Season

  2. So true Linda. Before the divorce, every Christmas Eve, I would read ‘The Night Before Christmas’ to my children just before bed-time. Afterwards, when the children were with their mom, I would phone them, and read the story to them over the phone. We kept the tradition, just in a different way. Even though they are mostly grown now, they still enjoy the story being read.

    Throwing away customs and tradition because of adult issues can be very damaging to your children. As you said, rather adapt, or add to, the existing traditions whenever possible.

  3. Excellent! Kids need and want routine. Do what’s best for kids not easiest on parents and get creative as Linda mentioned. If dad likes taking them to breakfast with Santa and it’s in your day let dad take them. Think of creating new traditions. One thing I started doing with my kids when I was a new single mom was make hot chocolate to go and the kids and I would get in our van in our Jammie’s and hot cocoa and I’d drive us around to look at lights while playing Christmas music. Cost of cocoa and gas. Still do it. Baked a special cookie with each child. instead of riding the polar express as that’s expensive I watch at home with my kids each year and we view in Jammie’s and with hot cocoa. Get creative and make and keep traditions. Kids find safety in repetition.

    • Heather, thank so much for the idea about hot chocolate. I can taste some right now. 🙂 And you are spot on with the comment, “Kids find safety in repetition.”

  4. Pingback: Why Is the Interruption of Routines and Traditions at Christmas So Difficult for a Child?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.